It's showtime for Ellen's Southern Kitchen, the popular West End restaurant that has relocated to new digs at 1701 N. Market St.
The new location is in a handsome brick building that also has historical status, across the street from an apartment complex under construction at Houston Street and Ross Avenue. This stretch of the West End is on the upswing, and Ellen's is poised to serve that growing clientele along with visitors, tourists, and downtown residents.
Owner Joe Groves was a pioneer when he first opened Ellen's in the West End in October 2012. The home-cooking cuisine, customer-friendly hours (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with breakfast all day), and diligence earned Ellen's a loyal following. The restaurant was even able to dispel a jinxed location that suffered a string of failed restaurants, such as Johnny Rockets and Atomic Sushi.
By 2015, they'd determined that they had outgrown their space. "We were so much more busy than we ever expected to be," Groves says. "On weekends, we were turning people away. So our first goal was to accommodate more people."
With the new location, he and chef/managing partner Russell Mertz (who is one of our Tastemaker Rising Chefs for 2016) had to navigate the overhaul of a building with historical status.
"It's a registered landmark, and we want to observe that not only from the outside, but also for people to walk in and get a sense that this is an old place," Groves says.
There's a spacious foyer at the entry, with benches for the inevitable waits at breakfast. The dining room is broken into defined dining areas which camouflage the fact that the restaurant seats 158 inside. "I wanted guests to feel like they're in an intimate space, so I designed the walls to be higher than usual, to section it off," Groves says.
The dining room is appointed with large plush white vinyl booths, gray walls, and sharp white trim. Once they get their footing, they'll take advantage of a killer patio with two sides, facing north and west.
They're adding a separate dinner service, and there's a real bar, backlit for visual impact, with more than a dozen stools lined up for having a drink or a solo snack. Stand-up counters have cool industrial pipes running along the bottom for you to put a foot up. "We're excited about the prospect of having a bar," Groves says. "It's good to have a designated space."
Even better is the separate coffee bar with espresso drinks for those who just want to grab coffee and not have to interact with the restaurant side. The espresso maker is a deluxe La Marzocco Strada, top of the line, baby, a score that Groves found on CraigsList. The beans are from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, and the barista skills are serious.
Groves' vision goes beyond Ellen's: He wants to make a contribution to his neighborhood.
"We hope we'll help expand the West End mercantile zone past Market Street," he says. "The energy on Market Street is always going to be there. But on the western part of the West End, you have the Holocaust Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum, and I feel an interest in connecting to those things.
"Right now, if you walk from the museum, you're walking through a wasteland. There's absolutely nothing there. I think it would be valuable to create some vibrancy on that end."